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An empty classroom in Pinole, Calif. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Elementary school students in the U.S. ended the school year four to five months behind their expected level of academic achievement, according to a new report.

Why it matters: Months of school closures and often inferior remote education eroded what schoolchildren would have learned since the pandemic began, and caused some to go backwards.

  • The effects of pandemic-driven learning loss will weigh on the economy for decades ahead, and could worsen if schools can't reopen normally in the fall.

By the numbers: Researchers from McKinsey compared academic achievement for K-12 students after the 2020-21 school year to matched students from previous years, and found that students were testing 10 points behind in math and 9 points behind in reading on average.

  • The numbers were worse for historically disadvantaged students — students in majority Black schools ended the year with six months of unfinished learning, while students from low-income schools finished seven months behind.

The big picture: The authors wrote that "unless steps are taken to address unfinished learning, today’s students may earn $49,000 to $61,000 less over their lifetime owing to the impact of the pandemic on their schooling."

  • That translates to an impact on the U.S. economy of $128 billion to $188 billion every year as these students enter the workforce.

Between the lines: More time spent in remote education correlated to worse outcomes — students in more urban schools fell further behind students at rural schools, which returned to in-person education faster.

What to watch: How successful efforts to close the learning gap over the summer prove to be, and whether schools can reopen for full-time in-person education even as the Delta variant — and lagging vaccination rates — cause COVID-19 case numbers to rise.

Go deeper

The next question for kids vaccines? School mandates

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The CDC's approval Tuesday of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine for 5-11-year-olds may open a new debate: whether schools should ultimately mandate them for that age group.

Why it matters: Members of the advisory boards for both the CDC and the FDA raised concerns their votes allowing shots in arms for all kids regardless of medical status might ultimately trigger mandates in schools.

Surprising pandemic side effect: Soaring trade deficits

Source: Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis; Chart: Axios Visuals

Inflation and jobs may get all the economic headlines, but meanwhile a big shift is taking place in the underpinnings of the world economy: The U.S. trade deficit is soaring.

What's happening: Americans' spending on imported physical goods has gone through the roof, while exports are growing slowly, making the U.S. the world's consumer of last resort.

Mike Allen, author of AM
1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Third Way: "Big Lie" could become "Big Coup"

Graphic: Third Way

Third Way, the center-left think tank, is urging fellow Democrats to respond to the Capitol riot with "the size, scope, and seriousness of a presidential campaign," co-founder Matt Bennett tells me.

Driving the news: "For the first time in U.S. history, a party must mount two parallel presidential campaigns: one to win the election, and the other to prevent its theft," Bennett said, calling this "a Paul Revere moment."